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credit where it's due
White House Bucks Gentry Liberals on Zoning

The Obama administration is leaning on local governments to resist NIMBY rent-seeking and make it easier for the market to developers to come closer to meeting market demand for new housing. Politico reports:

The Obama administration Monday is calling on cities and counties to rethink their zoning laws, saying that antiquated rules on construction, housing and land use are contributing to high rents and income inequality, and dragging down the U.S. economy as a whole.

City zoning battles usually are fought block by block, and the president’s involvement will create friction, particularly among environmental groups and the not-in-my-backyard crowd. But the White House jawboning is welcome news to many others, including mayors and builders increasingly foiled by community opposition to development. […]

The prescriptions call for more density, speedier permitting and fewer restrictions on accessory dwelling units such as basement and garage apartments. The plan rejects some of the arguments made by environmentalists, labor unions and other liberal constituencies that have stood in the way of development and endorses changes long sought by builders and the business community.

The role for the federal government in housing policy doesn’t extend much beyond exhortation and allocating small grants for mayors to “update” land use policies. But exhortation from this White House could get a hearing where it’s needed: As we’ve noted before, Democrats seem to have a particularly strong preference for heavily zoned communities.

One concern is that the White House offensive on zoning will turn Republicans—who should be natural proponents of stronger property rights and a more market-oriented housing policy—against efforts to lower housing costs by expanding the supply. The 2016 GOP platform contained no mention of the zoning crisis.

This would be a grave failure for a Republican Party looking to disrupt networks of entrenched elite privilege. More than anything else, setting local housing policy is a way by which the upper middle class perpetuates its own prosperity at the expense of people further down the ladder, pulling up the ladder to high social capital communities and putting a sizable drag on job creation.

The White House deserves credit for parting with its environmentalist, NIMBY, and union-oriented base and taking on this issue on behalf of the working and middle classes. Wise Republicans will see this as an area for collaboration and compromise.

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  • CaliforniaStark

    Many of the arguments made in this article are expertly refuted in a New Geography article by Wendell Cox entitled: “The Incompatibility of Forced Density and Housing Affordability.”

    As Cox states: “planning authoritarianism cannot tell everyone where and how to live.” Obama, Jerry Brown and their ideological supporters are pushing a social engineering agenda to all but prohibit detached housing, and force people out of their automobiles, to further their climate change agenda. In urban areas that follow these policies, the cost of housing significantly increases — additional density notwithstanding.

  • Jim__L

    More power for the Feds and less power for locals, because a**hole Urbanist technocrats think they know better?

    The Feds can go to h**l.

    Do you seriously think that the elites wouldn’t end up being the ultimate winners, if these precedents were set? I don’t believe it for an instant.

  • Andrew Allison

    TAI consistently ignores the real issue here, namely the imposition by limolibs of regulation to which they themselves are immune. See, e.g. Let’s start by re-zoning Kalorama for high-density, low-income housing. What needs to be done is to remove the constraints on development in areas zoned for low- and medium-income housing which are preventing them from being built.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Stop the real estate bubble in dense coastal cities resulting from the Federal Reserve zero interest rate policy. Zoning is not the key variable.

    • Jim__L

      Another key is the fact that jobs are, for no reason other than Sand Hill Road’s being a pilgrimage site, being concentrated for the convenience of the ultra-rich.

      Another eruption of San Andreas would be a great corrective for this economic tumor. And I say that as someone who lives in Silicon Valley.

  • Proud Skeptic

    It is pretty clear to me that the White House is primarily interested in finding places in nice neighborhoods for folks who can’t afford to live there (yeah…that’s code).

    The problem, as I understand it, isn’t that nice neighborhoods are driving prices up but that restrictions on expansion of development through smart growth policies has kept a lid on the amount of available housing stock. Let it expand and do it in a controlled, intelligent fashion but keep the nice neighborhoods nice…other wise you undercut your tax base by lowering property values. Then of course, there is the fact that even after the crash most people’s wealth is still in their home.

    I can’t imagine how interference by the White house could do anything but exacerbate the problem.

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